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The Case of David Smith

Reunion, U.S.A.

The Case of David Smith

Nov 05 1945


















NOTE: Published version of script from the series "Reunion, U.S.A." American Broadcasting Company, Monday, 7:30-8:00 P.M., P.W.T. Written and produced by the Hollywood Writers Mobilization. 

ANNOUNCER: (On dead air) Thousands of men are being discharged from the Armed Forces of the United States every month ... and they are coming home!

MUSIC: Intro to main title theme ... Fade for:


MUSIC: Theme--main title

ANNOUNCER: 'Reunion U.S.A.' is a series of half-hour dramas on the theme of the soldier's return from war, presented by the American Broadcasting Company in coöperation with the Hollywood Writers Mobilization.

MUSIC: Up and fade for:

ANNOUNCER: Tonight's play stars John Lund. It is written by Abraham Polonsky and directed by Cal Kuhl. The title, 'The Case of David Smith.'

MUSIC: Up and segue to theme for story


MUSIC: Drums and trumpets to an unresolved rhythm and chord, and out

WRANGLE: Captain Myers? 

MYERS: Sir? 

WRANGLE: You may be seated.

MYERS: Thank you, sir. (Narrative voice, introspective: designated by brackets). [So this is Wrangle, Colonel Wrangle, and his two assistants. I admit the situation with my neat obedience. My briefcase rests upon my knees, my shoes are shined, my uniform pressed. Yes, my face and attitude are careful with respect for rank and authority.]

WRANGLE: Ready, gentlemen?

LAPHAM: Yes, Colonel Wrangle.

SOUND: Pencil tapping on desk

LAPHAM: I'm sure I had lead in this pencil.

FLECK: Here's a pencil, Lapham.

LAPHAM: Thanks, Fleck.

SOUND: Tapping of pencil

LAPHAM: It can't have just disappeared.

WRANGLE: Are these files duplicates, Captain Myers?

MYERS: Yes, sir.

SOUND: The little rigmarole of papers, files, and ash trays as the men make ready while Myers continues to speak

MYERS: [This is Wrangle, a beefy man with restless eyes: Wrangle, who completed his classification of the human race in 1924 and regards all subsequent history as unmitigated gall. To his left is Major Lapham, not a practicing psychiatrist like Wrangle, but a popularizer. You've seen his books advertised in Sunday book supplements, and on the back covers of pulp magazines: 'The Psychiatry of Everyday Life,' and then a splash of red letters shrieking: are you insane? (Pause) The futility of making them understand is apparent.]

WRANGLE: Captain Myers?


WRANGLE: We're sitting as an informal board on the Smith case. Frankly, I have no strong opinions. And I'm sure Majors Lapham and Fleck are in the same boat.

MYERS: [I smile again to show my eagerness to coöperate. I know Wrangle wants this curious Smith case closed: Let's have no new reasons for new disasters! I smile at Lapham. He examines his mechanical pencil while he thinks of book sales on drug counters and in department stores. Now for Major Fleck, whoever he is. I want him to think I'm intelligent but not forward. We are colleagues but not equals. This smile is familiar among professionals, more subtle than that of the Mona Lisa. (Pause) No. This is a different kind of man. Fleck? Fleck? Who is Fleck? I suddenly remember a few papers in obscure journals, some careful studies, a handful of insights. Fleck. Perhaps Fleck can understand the whole horror of this Smith case. This man may listen, think. I unlock my briefcase

SOUND: Unlocking briefcase 

and take out my personal file on Smith, leaving the letter in its gray envelope safe in the leather pocket. Perhaps the letter can be read, if Fleck is anything at all. But later.] I'll be glad to tell you anything you want to know, gentlemen.

WRANGLE: Thank you, captain. It seems from a first glance that we have an extreme but typical melancholia.

MYERS: [His restless black eyes dart aimless, typical glances, looking through life for typical patterns. The man is hopeless.] There is evidence to that effect, sir.

WRANGLE: What do you think, Lapham?

LAPHAM: I agree. I agree completely. A very sad case, one of those dreary prices for victory. Very. The three years Lieutenant Smith spent in the Japanese prison camps definitely unhinged him. But definitely.

WRANGLE: Undoubtedly, but there must be probable genetic patterns. What do you think, Fleck?

MYERS: [I look at Fleck, who blinks his heavy-lidded eyes most innocently. Does he care to know? Will he try?]

FLECK: I should like to hear Captain Myers' observations. (Pause) Perhaps there's something we can learn.

MYERS: [This is a man.] 

WRANGLE: You may proceed, Captain Myers.

MYERS: [I slowly open the file of the strange case of Lt. David Smith, Army of the United States. Whatever hopelessness I carried into the room is still with me. The affair is so complex, the need to understand so grave. Fleck is my man. I shall talk to him, and to him alone. The other two have buried the corpse.] Lieutenant David Smith, admitted October 12 - 0500. Weight, 152, ten pounds below normal. Pulse, 72; blood pressure, 126. Basal metabolism, minus 3. Walked stiffly, obeyed instructions, apparently unable to speak. Generally apathetic ... depressed. I examined him quite carefully. His body bore healed scars from outrageous acts of violence inflicted on him during his three years' captivity. The left hand, for instance, though healed, was completely crushed and useless, the bones having been broken in the wrists and fingers, the nerves atrophied. As I learned later, the Japanese had done this with a light hammer after tying Smith's hand to a wooden block and beating it repeatedly.

LAPHAM: (Involuntarily) The savages.

MYERS: Smith appeared to be in the first stages of some enormous psychological shock.

WRANGLE: Delayed, no doubt. A mass recall.

LAPHAM: A sudden realization of all he had gone through.

WRANGLE: It's quite common.

(Pause: painful)

FLECK: Will you continue, Captain?

MYERS: Thank you. I had Smith put to bed, sent for his records, and interviewed his wife on the following morning. You have the summary of our remarks there before you.

WRANGLE: Mrs. Minerva Smith?

SOUND: Rustling of papers

MYERS: Yes, sir. [I remember that interview with Mrs. Minerva Smith most distinctly. It was the first sign of the deeper meaning in her husband's case. She sat in the barred sunlight that came through the Venetian blinds.]

SOUND: A lawn mower off, by spells

MYERS: [Someone was mowing the grass outside. She was pretty, placid, pained, a middle-class matron at twenty-two. She wore white washable gloves, carried a black purse that matched her dress, black and appropriate for the sad occasion. Her legs were modestly quiet and uncrossed, her hat just so on her upswept hair. But she felt hurt; let down, I suppose.]

MINERVA: The way I feel, doctor ... (a false half laugh) ... or should I call you Captain? It doesn't seem right. I've been waiting so long.

MYERS: I realize that. How did your husband act when he first came home?

MINERVA: That's just it. He seemed so ready to be happy.

MYERS: Affectionate? 

MINERVA: (primly) Pardon?

MYERS: I mean just generally.

MINERVA: Oh, yes. David is an affectionate man. I'm an affectionate woman myself.

MYERS: [Here she smiled at me, inviting my deep sympathy. I was deeply sympathetic.] When did he first begin to act strangely?

MINERVA: From the very first, in a way. He wanted to read all the papers and magazines of the last three years. He listened to news broadcasts all the time. I mean, doctor, after all ... here we were, reunited, after so long.

You'd think he'd be sick of the whole past. And then, he didn't seem particularly anxious to meet our friends again, people who had worried day and night over his safety for years.

MYERS: Did he tell you why?

MINERVA: No, Doctor, although after his visit to his father I finally did arrange a party.

SOUND: Party noises fading in. Glasses, voices, etc.

MAN: David, you know the Japs better than we do. Do you think they'll want to pull a Pearl Harbor first chance they get?

MINERVA: Oh, please ... We can't be living in the past the rest of our lives.

WOMAN: Minerva's right. Let's not talk politics. We can leave that to the government. Tell us, David, how did your first ice cream soda taste? Here in town, I mean.

DAVID: You really want to know?

WOMAN: (Loudly) Everybody quiet. Quiet!

SOUND: Party noises down

WOMAN: David is going to make his first public statement on his first ice cream soda in town.

SOUND: Laughter, silence

WOMAN: How did it taste?

DAVID: Bitter.

SOUND: Voices up cross-fade to Minerva

MINERVA: People just stared, Doctor. We felt ... I felt ... that he hated us.

MYERS: [Her smooth cheeks shook. The whole thing was so uncomfortable.] Tell me, Mrs. Smith, was there anything in your husband's past, any frustration, any unhealthy attitude towards people or life--anything you remember that might help us?

MINERVA: No. No. David was quite normal--except, of course, you know he was studying to be an anthropologist. He wanted to go off and live with primitive peoples, stuff like that. I used to think it was so romantic ...

MYERS: Anything else? 

MINERVA: Nothing really ... perhaps ... well, when he was in college he used to belong to an organization--I forget its name, but it was antiwar. He hated war. He comes from a family of Quakers. But it wasn't very serious because, when war came, he volunteered. You know that? He's a volunteer.

MYERS: Yes, I know. (Pause) Would you like to see your husband now?

MINERVA: (Pause) Is he the same? 

MYERS: I'm afraid so.

MINERVA: Well ... (hesitates) ... no, I think not. It's all so unfair. I've waited so long. (Pause) I'm like all the other normal people in the world. I say let the dead past bury its dead.

MYERS: [She stood there, hesitating, not daring to say what she meant-- that she wished he were dead. And I politely showed her out and went to see my patient. Signs, portents, meanings already floated above his martyred head.] No change, nurse?

NURSE: No, Doctor. I raised him to a sitting position about ten minutes ago and he hasn't moved once.

MYERS: [Smith faced the wall, resting limply in his bed against the pillows. His eyes were closed. Twenty-six years old, but he looked fifty, his hair gray, his temples hollow, the ache of creeping death upon him.] Smith! Smith, can you hear me? [His eyelids slowly opened and glazed eyes stared ahead. The glance was inward on the unfathomable horror which he alone knew, which he, alone of us all, possessed.] Smith! Smith! [His eyes closed again. That was all.] What do the tests show, Nurse?

NURSE: Nothing, sir. Absolutely nothing.

MYERS: [I knew then as I know now that the inner need of this man could be touched only through the mind. I simply had to get to him, to Smith, the human being aware of himself. This body, this dying vegetable in the bed, had no meaning for him any more. We could feed it.]

NURSE: By tube, sir. He took some nourishment.

MYERS: [We could wash it, watch it, measure it. But we couldn't release it from some deep vision, some deep abstraction which the mind possessed. This was living death, a renunciation. (Pause) I tried to get to everyone who had known him.]

WRANGLE: I see the reports here, Captain.

MYERS: Yes, sir. But, as you can see, no one seemed to mean anything to Smith, not even his father.

WRANGLE: Stephen Smith?

MYERS: Yes, sir. [I'm being so careful with these men. Perhaps the violent significance of Smith's case will echo in their ears. Wrangle palps the papers. Lapham draws girls with curly hair. Fleck looks at me. Very well, let us stare at each other, Major Fleck. If you wish to recognize the guilt, you must share it.]

WRANGLE: The father was Mr. Stephen Smith, a retired farmer from Linville.

MYERS: Yes, sir. He came to the hospital. You have the gist of our remarks in the report before you. [The gist, yes. The father was an old man, for David had been a late son. The father seemed remote from life, wifeless and now to be childless.] You say he came to visit you, Mr. Smith?

FATHER: Why, yes, Doctor. It was supposed to be for a week, but David only stayed one night. We didn't seem to have much to say to each other.

MYERS: Why do you think he came?

FATHER: Filial duty, I suppose. He was always a good boy. But in the morning he was up and on his way.


FATHER: We hadn't really said anything to each other, Doctor. I don't know what it was he expected of me. I'm old and I'm tired. David was always queer. He wanted to be a missionary in China like his grandfather, but he soon got over that when he grew up. I don't believe in running all over the earth changing things. What does it matter, anyway?

MYERS: Did he say anything that I should know?

FATHER: Well, in a way. It was about seven and he was dressed to leave.

SOUND: Dog barking, off

FATHER: The dog kept barking outside, remembering him ... Going, David?


FATHER: I thought you were going to stay a few days.

DAVID: What for? What's the use of it? (Pause) What's the use of you?

SOUND: Steps going to door. Door opens. Dog barking in, loudly. Door slams

FATHER: You hear, Doctor. He said that to me. What's the use of me? What did he want?

MYERS: [And then at last we stood in David's hospital room, the father, the nurse, and myself. David was stretched out flat on the bed, breathing lightly, wasting away.]

FATHER: Looks bad. Some tropical disease? 

MYERS: No. Something mental, I think.

FATHER: Well, that's it. He used to be a fine young man, and now look at him, older than me. Do you think it was worth while--for him, I mean--all the war and the prison camp, and such?

MYERS: Was it worth while for you? 

FATHER: I don't know.

MYERS: [He stood there, the father. And then he walked over to the bed, gently bent down, and kissed his son's forehead.]

FATHER: (Clears throat) I keep wondering, Doctor, if we're not entitled to another Flood ...

MYERS: [It got so I used to spend hours in Smith's room, just looking at him, wondering. The thing grew on me until I began to feel that this wasn't a 'case'; this was myself, my own responsibility. It was a nightmare --to be burdened and overwhelmed with the sense that somehow the meaning of my own life was bound into the apathetic hulk upon the bed, that wasting flesh, those cheeks sinking beneath the bone.] Smith! David! Can you hear me? Open your eyes! [But by now they no longer opened, and we all knew this was the dying. I felt it was my duty--it had become my sole duty--to make this man open his lips again, to speak, to say the thing that tormented him, for it was an unspeakable torment that had magnetized his brain into silence. Nothing of the world outside, not the wind at morning, nor the faces of men, mattered. He was alone with himself. (Pause) I wonder do these men before me seek to understand. They turn the pages of the file. They glance at one another. And Fleck ... does he find a glimmer? He dreams away behind half-closed lids. Wrangle coughs upon his ignorance.]

SOUND: Wrangle coughs 

WRANGLE: There are mysteries, Captain Myers. You did your best. Is there anything else you want to say?

MYERS: [Anything else I want to say? Shall I shout it at you? Must the dead spring from their graves with banners and trumpets?] There was, sir, the interview I had with the rescuing officer--

WRANGLE: John Humber, Lieutenant Senior Grade, United States Naval Reserve?

MYERS: Yes, sir. [Humber popped in on me. He was brisk and in his middle thirties, an affable advertising man turned warrior.]

HUMBER: How do you do, Captain? I received your note.

MYERS: Sorry to bother you.

HUMBER: Not at all. Not at all. How's Smith?

MYERS: Would you like to see him? [Humber gave me a quick, suspicious look. Was this a responsibility? Then his blue eyes found golden glints. He smiled.]

HUMBER: Why not? I brought him back into the world; a kind of second birth, you know ...

MYERS: Yes. This way, please. [Humber looked at me as if I had breached an inviolate law of social decency when he stared at the human skeleton in the bed.]

HUMBER: (In wonder) But that's the way he looked when I first saw him. You know we rushed the camp, and Smith was lying in the dirt, a bloody bruise on his cheek where some Jap animal had just kicked him. What's wrong?

MYERS: We don't know. That's why I asked you over. I thought perhaps you might know. It's psychological.

HUMBER: Poor chap. He had the devil of a time. Three years of it, and the worst, the very worst.

MYERS: Did you talk to him?

HUMBER: A little. I found him lying in the dirt in the hot sun. The Japs wouldn't let any of the other prisoners go near him or help. This Smith was a devil. He never gave up for a moment, the other prisoners told me. He knew ...

MYERS: He knew what?

HUMBER: I don't know how to say it exactly ... but ... he felt, he knew, that to live on, to endure, to defy them guaranteed the faith and honor of those back at home. He was a man of honor. (Pause) Anyway ... There was a little shooting ...

SOUND: A burst of shots, off. A few lone ones

HUMBER: This way, men. Lively!

SOUND: Feet on dirt, etc.

HUMBER: Who's this? 

VOICE: Smith, sir. Lieutenant Smith.

HUMBER: Is he dead? 

VOICE: No, sir.

HUMBER: Smith! Hello there, Smith! You're free! We're here! We've returned!

SMITH: (Weakly) Hello.

HUMBER: Take it easy, old man. (Calls) Stretcher here! 

SMITH: I'm all right.

HUMBER: You'll be all right.

SOUND: Stretcher bearers, etc.

HUMBER: Easy there, men. In with him.

SMITH: Lieutenant? 

HUMBER: Just take it easy, old man. You'll be eating ice cream sodas in your own town before long. It's over.

SMITH: Have you got a gun?

HUMBER: None of that, old man. You'll make it.

SMITH: I just want to feel a gun again.

SOUND: Voices up briefly, and out

HUMBER: Well, I handed him my forty-five. I don't know why. He asked for it. This skeleton, this devilish living scarecrow of a man. You could see the blood pumping through his veins, he was so thin ... covered with sores ... a sight ... a blasted revolting sight! Imagine, Captain, an American, and they had treated him this way! And off the stretcher went, and Smith sitting up in it, fondling the gun. The Jap commandant was standing there, stiffly, with his men all lined up, damned proper and full of protocol all of a sudden. The stretcher stopped in front of him; and Smith, he sat there. Then he pointed the gun ...

SOUND: Two shots. Pause. Three shots. Two shots. A long pause. A final shot 

MYERS: He killed him?

HUMBER: God, yes. Smashed him up and dropped the gun and began to cry. And look at him! This man had guts, Captain. What is it?

MYERS: I don't know. I don't think we'll have time to find out.

HUMBER: Dying? 


HUMBER: Well, it's too bad. (Sighs) After living through three years of prison camp. (Pause) I have to be going.

MYERS: Thanks a lot.

HUMBER: Nothing at all.

MYERS: [He turned back for a last look, shook his short-cropped blond head.]

HUMBER: Anyway, he got back at them. He got one. You know, this is strictly off the record, Captain. It's not comme il faut.

MYERS: I know. [In a way, I do. A symbolic act, the punishment of the guilty. Not so much revenge as justice. I wanted Smith to talk, to say a word. What had suddenly overwhelmed him back here in the United States, suddenly found a focus and invited this living death on a hospital bed? (Pause) I look at the advisory board--Wrangle, Lapham, and Fleck. Fleck's eyes are on me.]

FLECK: Tell me, Captain Myers ...

MYERS: Yes, Major Fleck?

FLECK: I know we can't actually separate causes, but, essentially, do you think it was the experience of the war or the experience of the peace that shocked him?

MYERS: [This is crucial. I have the letter in my briefcase. Wrangle's quick eyes scurry like mice. Lapham yawns.] All I know, sir, is what Smith finally said.

WRANGLE: You mean he spoke?

MYERS: Finally, Colonel Wrangle. It was after I interviewed Sergeant Tana, the man who infiltrated the enemy territory with Lieutenant Smith. You know their mission was to go in behind the lines to raise and organize guerrilla bands against the Japanese, Smith being a little familiar with the language, an anthropologist of sorts. Tana was a Filipino, educated here, a fine man. He came in to see me the day Smith spoke. [Fleck is watching me closely. I think he begins to understand, because I can see that same film of sickness in his eyes. He begins to see the whole point of the case of David Smith.] The way Tana put it was simple.

TANA: You understand, Captain, we went in to get these people to fight. But people don't fight for nothing. And Smith, my lieutenant, was an honest man. I don't know what his orders were, his authority to speak, but he told them: You fight to be free. I'm an American. And you'll be free. My government sent me. That's what my lieutenant said to them.

MYERS: They believed him?

TANA: Yes, even though for a native to be caught by the Japanese meant not easy death. There are certain tortures I need not describe. Your manhood goes quickly. The nerves have no conscience, no idealistic slogans. They shatter. But all the natives knew the meaning. You see, this was their jungle. I mean the native, as we Americans call them. It was theirs to have, to keep, to be their very own. So my lieutenant said it. He said it again and again and again. Then he was captured. We fought on with some success until the war was over. Then the colony was re-established, all with due order and a little shooting. I have myself a certain sense of guilt; but then, I'm a native myself. Here is the letter from Smith.

MYERS: What letter?

TANA: He mailed it to me a month ago. I picked it up at my home in San Francisco. I'm a native. I don't have very great expectations. But then, Smith made the promises, he being the officer, not me. If my lieutenant reaches consciousness, tell him for me, I forgive. Of course, I forgive! I have more faith in history. We cannot be defeated forever. One must have the experience of the disaster in such affairs. Good-bye.

MYERS: Good-bye. [He was out with a quick step, a brown little man, wiry and tough. That night I spoke to Smith, and Smith answered. It was close to midnight, and the nurse and I sat there looking at our patient. He was pretty much gone, breathing heavily. I took his hand and bent close to his ear.] Smith ... David ... (whispering) David. Can you hear me? I just spoke to Sergeant Tana. [A profound shudder moved through his body.]

NURSE: Doctor, his pulse is faster.

MYERS: [I took my stethescope and listened.]

SOUND: The clink of the earpieces. Then the beating of the heart on mike. This will grow faster as it continues under.

MYERS: David, (excitement grows) listen to me! I spoke to Tana. Tana! You hear? Tana! He says he forgives. Tana! Tana!

SOUND: The heartbeat is faster, and now the tympani will take up the beat most delicately

NURSE: (agitated) Doctor!

MYERS: [Smith's body began to tremble. His breath came faster.]

SOUND: Smith breathing heavily

MYERS: [My ears seemed to be at the end of long antennae probing into the tremors of Smith's mind. There were earthquakes of consciousness stirring within that body.] Smith! Tana! He was here. He said he forgives! [It was like someone rising from the dead; as if the tiny almost extinguished light of sensibility had begun to burn again; as if warmth were seeping into the brain. His body twitched, the muscles loose and dissolute with energy. The habits of conscious living had been dormant so long. Sweat broke out on his brow.] David, can you hear me? David. Tana. Listen to me. Tana. He forgives! [And then his eyes opened ... a glaze-fixed light. He seemed to struggle to sit up.] Help him, Nurse.

NURSE: I am. 

MYERS: [She raised him slowly, and those eyes stared and stared.] David, Tana was here. He forgives.

SOUND: Heart and music, now! The rhythm coming up

MYERS: [I could sense the long shift, the immense focus of his mind. He seemed to come out of the fog. He fought his way into the daylight world again, and then consciousness fluttered in his eyes. He looked at me ... at the room. Realization blazed, darkened with sin and horror, with immense guilt. He shrieked.]

DAVID: I want ... I want ...

MYERS: David!

DAVID: I want simple justice!

SOUND: A crescendo of beat continues for a few seconds. Then profound silence --pause

MYERS: [Then he quite simply died.]

WRANGLE: (Pause) Most extraordinary. That was all?

MYERS: Yes, sir.

LAPHAM: "I want simple justice," he said.

MYERS: Yes, Major Lapham.

WRANGLE: Extraordinary. Most extraordinary. A peculiar fixation.

MYERS: Yes, sir.

WRANGLE: That was all?

MYERS: Yes, sir.

WRANGLE: You have the letter?

MYERS: (Pause) [I look at Fleck. His eyes are closed. He opens them and slowly nods, with contempt almost. I open the briefcase and take out the letter.] Shall I read it, sir?

WRANGLE: Yes, of course. Does it throw any light on the case?

MYERS: This is it, sir. [I unfold the letter.]

SOUND: Paper

MYERS: [Fleck wants it. Very well. Let him live with the meaning, too. These others won't understand.] Dear Tana--I believed in the promise I made them, the promise of freedom. Who is going to keep it, and when? Please forgive me. David Smith.

WRANGLE: That's all?

MYERS: That's all, Colonel Wrangle.

WRANGLE: Extraordinary. Well, Captain, you did your best.

MYERS: Thank you, sir.

WRANGLE: Gentlemen, what do you say? Can we consider the case closed?

SOUND: Resolve here the unresolved chord.


ANNOUNCER: And now, for a comment on tonight's play, we present Franklin Fearing, Professor of Psychology in the University of California, Los Angeles. Doctor Fearing.

FEARING: This is not a story of a soldier who became psychoneurotic because of experiences in the war. Let us be clear on this point. It is a story of what happens when a soldier returns and looks at civilian life and tries, as he must, to find some meaning in the world that he now confronts. He has endured pain, anxiety, and fatigue. He may have been injured physically. He has discovered that he could face death and inflict it. These unimagined and unimaginable experiences have left their mark. They have not necessarily impaired his capacity to live happily and participate effectively in a world at peace. But he cannot possibly see that world as he saw it before he went to war. He now seeks some evidence that the world of civilians in which he finds himself understands, if only faintly, the reasons for which the war was fought and the price which must be paid for peace. If, instead, he finds a complacent willingness to return to the past or glib talk about our enemies in the next war, he will retreat in horror and revulsion. The mental sickness of David Smith was not caused by the war. It occurred when he was unable to find the answers to his simple questions. It was caused by what he found in the peace.